Join me on a trip to London, Paris, and Rome

Experience the joy of travel

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list. Susan Sontag

According to travel guru Rick Steves, 80 percent of Americans do not hold a passport. That’s sad, because international travel provides some of life’s greatest experiences. And, travel is more affordable and convenient than ever before.

Please join me on an historic visit to the three greatest cities in the world—London, Paris, and Rome. (As an added bonus, we’ll also visit Florence, Italy; Barcelona, Spain; Gibraltar; Toulon, France; and Lisbon, Portugal.) We’ll spend 16 wonderful days together October 18-November 2, 2018.

It’s been said that one of the joys of traveling is not only where you go but who you go with and who you meet along the way. This tour group will be limited to 40 interesting ladies and gentlemen who travel well—friends of mine who enjoy exploring great places.

In the past ten years I’ve led groups of friends on annual trips to Paris, London, the Mediterranean, Baltic States, Russia, and North Africa. We’ve never had a malfunction or bad experience; just memorable, life-enhancing moments. I think often of these international experiences:

• Picnicking on cheese and wine on a Swiss hillside

• Gaining access to a special room full of famous paintings at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia

• Watching a snake charmer lure a snake out of its basket in Marrakesh, Morocco

• Sharing a meal with friends in Palermo

• Touring a spice market in New Delhi

Travel takes time and money, but it’s worth the investment. You’ll be stretched and challenged, and you’ll learn more about the world in which you live and the life you live in the world. I hope you’ll consider joining me.

Here’s more information about the trip Tale of Three Cities.

Question: Interested in going on the trip? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The placebo effect

A placebo, most often used in drug studies, is used in clinical trials to test the effectiveness of treatments. For instance, people in one group get the drug being tested, while the control group receive a fake drug, or placebo, that they think is the real thing. This way, the researchers can measure if the drug truly works by comparing how both groups react. If they both have the same reaction — improvement or not — the drug is deemed ineffective. [Harvard Health Publications, May, 2017]

A familiar example is putting a Band-Aid on a child. It can make the child feel better though there is no medical reason it should. Patients suffering from depression have reported that they feel better after taking a new anti-depressant though all they ingested was an inert substance.

This is well-known information.

But here’s some recent information that takes this conversation to a new level.

A recent study conducted by the Harvard Medical School suggests that deception may not be necessary for the placebo effect to occur; a placebo may work its magic even when people know they are taking a pill filled with nothing but a saline solution.

For instance, a writer went to see his physician because he was having panic attacks which then caused writer’s block. The doctor gave him a bottle of pills marked “placebo” and even told the patient that the pills contained no drugs, but to take two pills when he started feeling anxious. It worked.

What are we to make of this? Are we humans inordinately and pathetically subject to our psyche? Is it manipulative to offer humans a placebo type solution?

It is a deep subject for my shallow mind, but here are my thoughts.

Perhaps you can give yourself a placebo by engaging in known and verified self-help methods. Eat right, exercise, meditate, spend quality time with healthy people, pray—these actions will help you mentally, emotionally and physically, perhaps even beyond their obvious and true benefit.

When others are hurting or distressed, offer emotional support and physical companionship. Play the part of the “Band-Aid.” Or, give them a multivitamin and tell them it’s a rare drug recently approved by the FDA (just kidding).

Readers, I could use your help on this topic. What do you think?

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Perception vs reality

Plus - 12 best books I read last year - book 3 of 12


Be careful how you interpret the world, it is like that.
Eric Heller

Perception is reality.

I have always resisted this thought, though I believe it is true, though it is not.

Reality is immutable so our perception of it should be immaterial. (Thinking that an apple is an orange doesn’t change the molecular structure of the apple.) And yet, each of us comprehends and interprets reality through our personal, unique lenses. We often mistake our perception for reality.

Sometimes, we may see a small and accurate facet of reality but it is incomplete, which leads to correct but limited perceptions. [The Blind Men and the Elephant parable illustrates this conundrum.]

How can we negotiate this tenacious fallacy?

1. As you relate to other people, constantly remind yourself of how pervasive the perception vs reality challenge is, and try to manage it.

Anticipate how things may be perceived by others and try to present them clearly so that reality has a chance to prevail. Try to understand how people are perceiving things so that you can correct misconceptions.

2. Don’t let your perceptions define your reality.

Douglas Adams reminds us that “Everything you see or hear or experience is specific to you. You create a universe by perceiving it, so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you.” Continually scrutinize your thoughts and convictions in order to verify their veracity. Pursue truth; avoid and forsake a mere perception of the truth. As Daniel Moynihan famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

3. Leaders, this topic underscores how challenging it is to communicate well.

When communicating to your stake holders, always assume that you are not as good at communicating as you think you are.

Tom Peters writes, “The biggest problem with leadership communication is the illusion that it has occurred. A 2002 survey of 1,104 business professionals showed that while 86% of their leaders feel that they are great communicators, only 17% believe their leaders are, indeed, effective communicators.”

Good communication will help align perception with truth.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” – Albert Einstein

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

12 best books I read last year – book 3 of 12

In The Kingdom of Ice – The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette – Hampton Sides

In 1879 a ship set sail from San Francisco. Her crew hoped to be the first humans to reach the North Pole. This story is a testimony to the incredible perseverance embedded in the human psyche. Click here for more information from Amazon.

It’s never too late to chart a new course

One of the most encouraging things about life is that at any time we can decide to change and chart a new course. Life is like a book with many chapters; as the author, you can start a new chapter at anytime.

It doesn’t matter how old you are or how deeply embedded you are in your current modus operandi. You can always choose a new direction. Where you’ve been need not determine where you go.

Sometimes in life we slowly and unwittingly drift into an undesirable place, or sometimes life changes around us and we don’t adjust to it. We find ourselves severely out of sync. Often our poor choices place us in jeopardy.

Regardless of why we’re displaced or out of kilter, we can remedy the situation. Making major changes is hard, but doable. It takes courage and grit.

  • Terminate an abusive relationship.
  • Start a new career.
  • Stop a bad habit or start a good one.
  • Decide to be more positive, or punctual, or kind.
  • Pray more.

You’ll probably need help; it’s difficult to negotiate major changes on your own. But you must initiate the new direction and be the driving force behind it. No one else is responsible for your turnaround, but many will assist.

When you’re ready to move to a better place and future, think carefully about, and take, that first step. Think about where you want to go and then take a baby-step forward, then another, and another. The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step, so the first step is very important – both for direction and momentum.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is today. A year from now you’ll wish you had started today. Start today.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Leadership is messy

Plus - 12 best books I read last year - book 3 of 12

In renowned psychologist Alison Gopnik’s must-read book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, she makes a seemingly too obvious statement: “Children are messy.”

It’s not a new or radical thought, but sometimes we don’t need to be taught something new as much as simply reminded of something important but perhaps out of mind.

My two-year-old grandson, Benjamin, recently had a meltdown in a nice restaurant. Yep, children are messy. He drew a nice picture of a house, dog, and moon—on the wall of our hallway. Yep, children are messy. I could go on ad infinitum, but you get my drift.

When these mishaps occur, reminding myself that “children are messy” seems to help me deal with them. Perhaps just anticipating that unfortunate things will happen ameliorates the discomfort.

Now, let’s switch applications. Here’s a reminder to leaders: leadership is messy.

  • No matter how conscientious you are about hiring good people, you’ll make mistakes.
  • Well-thought-out strategies that you consider bulletproof will sometimes fail.
  • Earn a black belt in internal communications, but you’ll still have embarrassing moments of confusion and misalignment in your organization.
  • Even though you carefully negotiate dismissing an under-performing staff member, you still might get sued.

Work hard at leading well, but don’t be surprised or overly discouraged when things fall apart or get messy. Don’t be cavalier about breakdowns, but don’t let them disrupt your confidence or determination.

The constant challenges that leaders face may cause you to rethink being one. You may be happier and more fulfilled in a non-leadership role—functioning as an achiever rather than a leader. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Raising children and leading an organization have one thing in common: both are messy.

Here’s a video of a smart leader responding to a difficult situation.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

12 best books I read last year – book 3 of 12

The Road to Character  – David Brooks

A great treatise on character illustrated by a brief biography of major characters (Eisenhower, Augustine, Dorothy Day, George Eliot, and others). Click here for more information from Amazon.

Avoid situations in which a “no” is more powerful than a “yes”

In a 50/50 relationship—where each person has equal authority—a “no” is more powerful than a “yes.” For instance, in a marriage in which the 50/50 rule is in place, if one spouse says, “Let’s go out to eat on Friday,” and the other says, “No; I don’t want to,” the latter rules. “No” trumps “yes.”

This seems unfair to me.

This quirkish adulteration of fairness is particularly potent and unsavory when one person in the 50/50 relationship tends to be negative and pessimistic, or controlling, or indecisive, or inordinately passive.

How can we avoid this situation?

  • One obvious way is to avoid 50/50 relationships. Just one degree—a 51/49 relationship—can make a difference. (Just hope you possess that extra one percent.)
  • Spread the power among three or more people, perhaps a 33/33/34 scenario, so that one person cannot control.
  • Establish a measure of independence in decision making; don’t frame an issue in terms that require consensus: “I’m going out to eat on Friday. Would you like to join me?”
  • Carefully craft the initial statement such that you can say “no.” You: “What would you like to do on Friday for dinner?” Other person’s reply: “Stay at home.” You: “No, I don’t want to do that.” In which case your “no” might prevail over the other person’s preference.

I’m not advocating that we become manipulative and self-serving. I am suggesting that we avoid being manipulated and controlled and that we establish balance of power in mutual relationships.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Conflict is inevitable; combat is optional. Pursue peace in relationships.

At work and at home, conflicts are inevitable. We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. So don’t be surprised when relationships are strained, but do proactively try to resolve the conflicts.

Here are some things to consider.

Misunderstandings are a natural byproduct of progress.

An ancient proverb says, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.” There’s something implied but omitted in this phrase; do you see it? My paraphrase of this proverb is: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean; but where there are oxen working, there’s going to be a lot of excrement that needs to be cleaned up.”

Whenever a group of people (oxen) are engaged in activity (producing a harvest), mishaps will happen. Whenever people work together, things get messy. And the more people involved and the busier they are, the messier it gets.

Take the initiative to restore the peace.

In strained relationships, someone must take the first step toward restitution. You be that person. You may be reluctant to do so because “I didn’t start the conflict” or “I’m not the main offender.” Regardless, you can be the peacemaker.

Settle matters quickly.

Misunderstandings seldom resolve themselves and they usually get worse when ignored. Address difficult issues sooner than later.

Distinguish between issues that need to be dropped and those that should be addressed.

If taken to an extreme, obsessing about peace in relationships can have an unsettling effect. If I feel compelled to address every minor irritation that comes my way, I’ll unnecessarily stir up the relational waters. Some issues just need to be dropped.
Consider this suggestion when you’re upset, but if someone else is upset, don’t dismiss their feelings as unimportant or trivial: “Yeah, I know Bob’s upset about being surprised at the meeting, but it’s not a big deal; he just needs to drop it.”

You may need to help arbitrate other people’s quarrels and misunderstandings.

At times, you’ll need to intervene in relational tiffs in which you are not personally involved. If you’re a leader, you’ll do this often.
This might involve encouraging someone to take action: “John, I think that you and Bob need to get together and talk out your differences.” Or, you may need to get directly involved: “John, let me set up a meeting with you, Bob, and me so that this issue can be addressed.”

Sometimes our pursuit of peace will fail.

For relational conflicts to be resolved, everyone involved must do their part to establish peace. Sometimes our sincere effort to resolve an issue won’t work because the other party cannot or will not agree to a peaceful resolution.

Click here for suggestions on how to structure a peace-seeking conversation.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Own your problems

Register now for the Sept. 27-28 Lead Well workshop

Last summer, I boarded a flight from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Seattle. I had priority boarding so I was among the first passengers on the plane. Normally this is a good thing but not in this instance because the plane was stiflingly hot.

I asked a flight attendant, “It’s very hot inside the plane; has the air conditioning been turned on?” (I have been on flights where the answer to this question was “no”; so I thought I’d start with the obvious.) The attendant basically ignored me.

Five minutes later, I crawled upstream to the front of the airplane (passengers were still boarding), when another flight attendant stopped me. Our conversation went something like this:

  • She said, “Sir, may I help you?”
  • I said, “It’s very hot inside the plane; has the captain turned on the air conditioning?”
  • She said, “The air conditioning is not working 100%.”
  • I said, “Ma’m, the air conditioning is not working 20%.”
  • She said, “Yes, it is warm.”
  • I said, “Why is that?”
  • She said, “The supplemental ground AC unit is not working. When possible, we’ll start the engines and start the AC.”
  • I said, “Well, that explains that. Does the captain know all of this?”
  • She said, “I’ll make sure he does.”

Five minutes later, the captain, in what sounded to me like a cheerful but rather flippant and patronizing tone of voice said over the intercom, “Well good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for joining us on this flight to Seattle. This is captain Snotnose (not his real name). Sorry about the temperature, yeah…we’re having some issues, should be okay once we’re in the air. Thanks for your patience.”

I understand that mechanical things break. I wasn’t upset at that. But it bothered me that no one took ownership of the problem, and only after someone (me) complained was an explanation given.

Here’s my advice:

  1. When something goes wrong on your watch, don’t ignore it, hide it, or minimize it—own it. (The AC is not working 100%?)
  2. Don’t blame someone else even though someone else may be complicit. (The ground crew may have forgotten to service the supplemental AC unit, but I’m on your plane.)
  3. Don’t use the phrase, “Thank you for your patience.” (I was not patient about this issue. That comment is presumptuous and dismissive and it makes things worse.)
  4. As soon as there’s a problem, acknowledge it to those affected. Don’t wait until they complain. (We were all perspiring; the problem was evident.)
  5. Explain why the problem is happening; a good explanation won’t fix the problem but it will lessen frustration.
  6. When possible, offer some type of compensation, even if it is token. (The stewardess did offer me a cup of ice but I declined; because everyone was suffering from the heat, everyone should be offered a reprieve.)
  7. Be empathetic. During the plane incident, a simple, “Sir, I’m very sorry about the temperature issue; I know it’s very discomforting.” would have helped ameliorate the tension.
  8. Don’t hesitate to apologize.

U.S. President Harry S. Truman had a sign on his desk that said, The buck stops here. He didn’t coin the phrase, but he did popularize it.

The saying is derived from the expression passing the buck, common in poker gameplay. It came to mean “passing blame” or absolving oneself of responsibility or concern by denying authority or jurisdiction over a given matter.

The phrase means that no excuses will be made. The speaker is taking full responsibility for what is happening rather than passing on the responsibility.

In life and leadership, we must own our problems. The buck stops with us.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Lead Well fall workshop – September 27-28 Click here for more information.